Written by Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.
Remembrance Sunday, which falls on 11 November 2018, marks 100 years since the end of the First World War, in which more than one million Commonwealth soldiers and many civilians lost their lives. It is a day for the nation to remember and honour those who ‘sacrificed’ themselves to secure and protect our freedom.
Their ‘sacrifice’ is quite rightly commemorated and reflected upon – and not just in this First World War, but in wars before and afterwards too, particularly World War II. These generations who fought and died protecting the country against existential threats, also in turn brought about accelerated rights and freedoms for future generations. War was a great leveller. People from lowly backgrounds were required to take on more and more authority as officers and generals from the ruling elite were killed. Women entered the workforce and undertook more and more non-traditional roles, from engineering to flying aircraft. It forced changes in a previously rigid and reluctant society.
The legacy of that sacrifice was also to acknowledge the rights and roles of everybody, by building a fairer society, in recognition of the role so many played. It was the First World War which led to voting rights for the majority of men and women and a set of other sweeping social reforms. It prompted a post-Victorian society riven by deep inequality to begin to level the playing field. The Second World War too led to the creation of a more universal welfare state, and the brilliant and bold move to establish services such as the NHS, as a right to health was seen as the very least we deserved.
Rudyard Kipling wrote his well-known poem Recessional, featuring the now common phrase, ‘Lest we forget’ which reflects on that sacrifice. It was written as a warning, to highlight that if a nation forgets the true source of its success, its military or material possessions will be insufficient in times of war. It is as much a reminder for us to consider and cherish what we hold dear.
For me Remembrance Sunday is a poignant chance to mark all of this – the sacrifice of the past and the consequent benefit to the modern day. It is a time to remember some of the freedoms it is so easy to take for granted – democracy, security, economy, education, freedom of the press, health, environment and nature, stability, peace. But, faced with some very real current environmental, social and political challenges, it is also a chance to think about what sacrifices we ourselves are making for our children and our children’s children.
So what is the legacy that we are passing on to future generations? And how will they remember us? And how will they choose to thank us for it?